As millions of Americans continue to deal with the aftermath from two of the worst hurricanes to hit the United States in decades, federal health regulators have issued warnings and recommendations for individuals in the impacted areas who rely on medical devices to treat critical health conditions.
Conservative estimates indicate Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma caused between $150 billon and $200 billion in damage to Texas and Florida. Houston experienced record amounts of rain and flooding, while storm surge and high wind velocity throughout Florida has caused widespread damage and left millions without power.
The consequences of these hurricanes may dramatically affect those with health conditions that require the use of certain medical devices. Therefore, the FDA issued a safety alert that outlined the best ways for consumers to ensure their equipment remains operable and does not create additional risks.
- Hurricanes bring torrential rain and flooding, so users of medical devices and supplies should try to keep the products as clean and dry as possible. If it is a device that keeps you alive, contact emergency services immediately and request an evacuation before severe weather begins.
- When sheltering in place, use battery powered flashlights or lanterns when using oxygen devices, rather than gas lights or torches. This will minimize the risk of fire.
- If your medical device appears to be damaged, do not use it and make sure to contact the manufacturer for a replacement later. Be sure to check power cords and batteries for water damage. If a device is electrically powered and has become wet, turn off the power at the main breaker.
- Notify your electric company or fire department that you have a medical device that requires power, such as a ventilator. They may be able to work on your power sooner than other areas or provide a replacement. Never plug in a power cord if it is wet.
- Use and maintain your medical device, such as refilling an insulin pump, only in areas that are lit well, to prevent mistakes and malfunctions. Try to keep medical devices in a clear and secure location if possible, away from water, off the ground, away from crowded areas or animals. Always be sure to check the device for pests and mold before using.
- It can be especially difficult to maintain devices that need fresh water, such as IV pumps, when storms bring a surge of polluted water. Heed announcements concerning the safety of local water supply.
- Use only bottled, boiled or treated water from a safe source to operate those devices. Chlorine tablets, iodine tablets or unscented chlorine bleach are also other options to treat contaminated water. However, those methods will not kill parasites.
- Make sure to use only medical products, such as gauze, that came from sterile, dry packaging with no holes or tears. If it is damaged or wet, do not use it. Use bleach, alcohol and disinfectant to help sterilize an area to conduct procedures, like catheter changes or dressing changes.
- Never re-use medical devices intended for single use, such as syringes or catheters. However, if there are no other devices available, be sure to thoroughly sterilize the device before reusing it.
The FDA also warns to be careful when using generators during a hurricane to power medical devices. Generators run using gas and can emit carbon monoxide. Using them in an enclosed area raises the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide is one of the leading causes of poisoning deaths in the U.S., and poses an additional risk following power outages, when generators may release the toxic gas, which has no color, odor, taste or other irritating factors that typically allow someone to detect it’s presence. Prolonged exposure to the gas could potentially lead to loss of consciousness, death or permanent brain damage from carbon monoxide poisoning.